For Jack LaFontaine, Sunday’s decision was one of the toughest of his life – and one of the fastest.
The goalie could have stayed at the University of Minnesota and continued to help his team win at the college level. Or, he could sign a one-year entry-level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, leaving his side mid-season to begin his professional career – an unusual outing.
And, he was on the clock. LaFontaine, 24, had about 20 hours to make this life-changing decision.
“It all happened quickly. It’s not something I’ve been thinking about all season, ”LaFontaine said Monday.
Ultimately, LaFontaine signed with Cannes, the team that selected the 6-2, 204-pound goalie in the third round of the 2016 NHL Draft. The plan is for him to join the team after his road game Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“This is the opportunity that presented itself,” said LaFontaine. “I think the opportunity is very golden, and I think the time is right.
“I think this opportunity is special in the sense that I have been working towards the goal of playing in the NHL since I was about 7 years old. All my actions, all my sacrifices, all my work have been for the common goal of playing. in the NHL. Saying that, I just have to take her to the dance.
LaFontaine said he has had conversations with his Minnesota teammates, saying, “They all respected each other and were excited for me. These opportunities don’t come up very often and chatting with management and others. people, I knew deep in my heart that it was time to take the next step.
Canes president and general manager Don Waddell said LaFontaine needed a work visa as a native Canadian playing for an American team. LaFontaine, of Mississauga, Ont., Was assigned to the Canes taxi team on Monday.
“Come on Wednesday, he can start training with the team and we’ll go from there,” Waddell said.
Will this mean a start to the match with the Canes? It remains to be seen. Carolina had goaltenders Frederik Andersen and Alex Lyon in practice on Monday, and Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Andersen would likely start against the Flyers.
Goalkeeper Antti Raanta missed Saturday’s game against Florida with an upper-body injury, and Lyon took the start after being recalled from the Chicago Wolves from the AHL. After a shaky start, Lyon settled in as the Canes rallied to force overtime before losing 4-3 in overtime against the Panthers.
Waddell said on Monday that Raanta’s injury status was “day to day” and that he didn’t expect it to be a long-term problem.
A solid CV
LaFontaine said the past few days have been an “emotional roller coaster”. He noted that he had “grown as an individual and a hockey player” in the Minnesota program after leaving the University of Michigan, playing the 2018-19 season with the Penticton Vees in junior hockey, and then moving on. be in Minnesota.
“I have the impression that with the goalkeepers, the paradox is that the more you are beaten, the stronger you are,” he said. “I feel like I’ve had a lot of adversity and tough times in my career and for me that made me stronger. So as a human being, as a more holistic goalie, mentally and emotionally, I feel like I’ve made great strides.
LaFontaine was the 2020-21 laureate of the Mike Richter Award as the best NCAA Division I goaltender. He was 22-7-0, 1.79 goals against average, .934 save percentage and five shutouts in 29 games to be named one of the Hobey Baker’s 10 finalists. Prize awarded annually to the best college hockey player.
LaFontaine’s numbers haven’t been so impressive this season – a 12-8-0, 2.69 GAA record and .900 save percentage in 20 NCAA games. A graduate student, he would have been an unrestricted free agent had he completed the season and his college eligibility with Minnesota.
Position of need
But the circumstances of the Canes and those of the Wolves made the signing necessary. Or, as Waddell put it, “Much wanted and needed. “
The Wolves needed help. Lyon was recalled and goalkeeper Eetu Makiniemi injured. Beck Warm, recalled from ECHL, suffered an injury during early morning practice, forcing Wolves to sign goalkeepers Michael Lackey and Caydon Edwards to the PTOs.
Waddell said Canes goaltender development coach Jason Muzzatti spoke to LaFontaine after Minnesota’s Friday game against Michigan State – LaFontaine allowed one on 24 shots in a 4-1 win – and the deal was quickly concluded.
LaFontaine said he was the first Minnesota player to leave in a season for professional hockey since forward Kyle Okposo signed with the New York Islanders in the 2007-08 season.
“I made the decision within 20 hours,” said LaFontaine. “Looking through the lens of hockey, from a life perspective, I felt really good. I feel really good about my game right now and I feel like I can contribute to the team anyway.
This story was originally published January 10, 2022 1:49 pm.